Christmas this year was pretty odd to say the least. I made the others mini stockings with my hiking socks and stuffed them with wrapped fruit! Exciting! We had a fairly heavy egg-nogg and pancake breakfast before loading the car with camping gear and heading off. Christmas lunch took place at Nandos, followed by a ‘golden gaytime’ ice-cream (that is actually the name of an ice-lolly here). We arrived at Spring brook rainforest at around five and, after setting up camp, went to see the view from a lookout point. It didn’t disappoint. We also spotted some paddy-melons (wallabies) on the way which was a bonus. There was also an adorably fat bandicoot scuttling around the bbq area in the evening!
On Boxing Day we trumped our usual Cornish beach walk with a 17km hike through the rainforest. At one point Hannah and I were walking along, happily chatting about Paris when I suddenly noticed a large blue and red crustacean brandishing it’s claws at me a metre ahead on the path. I swore loudly and jumped about a foot in the area much to Hannah’s amusement. It transpired to be a ‘Lamington spiny crayfish’. To be fair, who expects to see a bloody lobster in the middle of the forest! We weren’t even near a stream! We actually saw a couple more. The highlight was finding a large carpet python which I, again, almost trod on. It was coiled on the side of the path and my heart stopped for a split second before I noticed the pattern on its back. I would not be good at staying still if I got that close to a taipan (the most venomous snake in Aus)! The python was extremely lethargic. It only moved off when Melissa and I touched its tail.
The antagonist of the story became apparent after a few km. I noticed a little blob on my arm which I eventually twigged was a leech. We then looked down and noticed that our shoes and socks were covered in the disgusting little creatures. We had to then make regular stops to ‘de-leach’. The little buggers were even swarming inside the car; we kept on finding them in our shoes even once we’d driven back to the campsite! That night we also made a fleeting visit to the Spring brook glow worm caves which were spectacular – completely covered in Asian tourists though, not quite as authentic an experience as our walk in New Zealand! We drove back today, stopping for the day at the gold coast for a sun-bathe and a swim which was fantastic after the pouring rain in the rainforest over Christmas and Boxing Day (we got completely soaked on our walk and remained damp for the duration).
“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known. “ – Oscar Wilde
Anna, Hannah and I have spent the last couple of days getting acquainted with Brisbane. We’ve visited a man-made beach in the middle of the city, done laps of the local markets to gather up the free tasters, wandered around the city popping into ‘tat’ shops and sauntered around the beautiful botanic gardens with the cockatoos and sacred ibis filling the skies. My personal favourite has been the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art: Fantastically curated, with some really exciting exhibitions due to the ‘seventh Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’. I particularly was taken with ‘Raqib Shaw’, a London-based Indian artist who creates fantastically extravagant fantasy paintings which encapsulate a sense of Japanese delicacy whilst conveying incredibly graphic scenes. His work is incredibly original; He uses stain-glass paint, enamel, glitter and rhinestone which he manipulates with a porcupine quill to create the most incredibly intricate pieces on a grand scale. His large ‘Paradise Lost’ below understandably took him ten years to complete. If you have a moment it’s definitely worth checking him out: http://whitecube.com/artists/raqib_shaw/, although it’s impossible to get across the sense of the grandeur or the texture of the paintings through a photograph or a print.
On a slightly less cultured note, I also accidentally kicked a baby in the face. Not a proud moment. Seriously though, who expects there to be babies all over the floor in an art gallery – Of course I wasn’t watching my feet I was looking at the walls! Luckily the baby was absolutely fine and the mother was very understanding…How embarrassing!
So many ridiculous things have happened over the past couple of days that I’m starting to lose track. Yesterday, after the cancellation of the flight, I had my UCL interview over Skype. I’m not sure that I made any coherent sense at all. My mouth was seriously hurting as I’d tried betelnut in the morning; it was (I thought) my last day and betelnut is such a large part of the culture here – it would be like visiting Russia and not trying the vodka. Word of caution: Don’t ever try betelnut. I now have acid burns in my mouth from the disgusting stuff. Not pleasant.
This morning I eventually managed to get to Port Moresby where they arranged an alternative flight stopping overnight in Cairns. Luckily a relative of Wendy was in the area so took me to her house to wait. They have a pet crocodile called Ronda and a baby wallaby called Bali. Is that legal?! This is PNG though – they seem to make up their own rules. I eventually got on the flight to Cairns. I was assured that there would be somebody from the company to meet me at the airport. Inevitably there wasn’t. I arrived in a strange city in the dark into a completely empty airport with no plans until my flight at 5:30 the next morning.
I asked the only staff member in the terminal for some assistance – he phoned through and Air Niugini had not arranged anything at all. After he’d given up, the pilot from my flight (who is, I may add, ridiculously attractive – looks like Chris Pine. Looks in his late twenties.) then came through to arrivals and took pity on me. He stayed with me for a couple of hours ringing the various companies on his iphone. He managed to make an arrangement and drove me to an office at the domestic airport where there was someone waiting to take me to my accommodation. A little bit bizarre getting a lift from the pilot. I was embarrassingly wearing my PJ bottoms and walking boots. Not a good look. A sweaty day in hot PNG holding Wallabies added to my general ‘homeless’ appearance. Anyway, I then bumped into an old French man who was in the same situation as me – with accommodation arranged at the same Hotel so we waited for the shuttle bus together. He’s been doing research into biodiversity in Madang with the Prince of Monaco (among other people)! They’ve discovered 200 new species in their three month program. Incredible! Their most notable discovery was a bright orange deep sea crab (surprisingly large) which was named after the prince – Grimaldi. The man didn’t speak English so it was a great excuse to practice my French for the evening – he seemed incredibly relieved to find somebody who understood him! In general it’s nice to be able to talk to men without having to discuss marriage arrangements. Things had become so ridiculous in Goroka that Verena had to tell the community that I was in fact married, I just didn’t wear the ring. Incidentally, if anyone out there is worried about not finding a husband, head to PNG and you’ll be hitched within a week.
The Cairns hotel is very luxurious! Such a nice surprise! We had a fantastic meal of locally caught Barramundi. The only rooms left were ‘superior garden view’ rooms. There’s a beautiful pool made to look like a natural rock pool with arrangements of boulders, palm trees and little waterfalls dotted about. I’m pretty sure it was shut – it was completely deserted. Irresistible. It was so nice to cool off whilst star gazing with fruit bats swooping around a couple of metres above my head. Definately makes up for the complications.